The Horrors of War

A train of solidarity and peace to help Austrian children who were hungry and had no means of satisfying this basic and simple need.
Paola Furlan

In July 1914, the socialist Francesco Zanardi was mayor of Bologna following the local elections of June 28th, the first time after years of conservative rule that a progressive junta governed the city.


At the beginning of the war, the socialists declared their opposition to Italy’s entry into the conflict, expressing their neutralist vocation for international peace for the people and workers. This position was strongly and violently opposed by the interventionist nationalists who resorted to acts of intimidation and physical attacks against the socialists.


In 1919, on the eve of the second Christmas after the end of the war, the socialist-led Bologna City Council took action in favour of the children who, “for lack of food and clothing, were depressed and dying in large numbers” and resolved to “come to their aid by accommodating a number of them on the premises of the Colonia scolastica di Casaglia.” Vienna paid the consequences of four years of war and five years of deprivation that weigh especially heavily on the living conditions of youth. Mario Longhena, councillor of the municipal school headed by Zanardi, was particularly sensitive to the situation of the Viennese children after the defeat of Austria with the resulting lack of care, food, and shelter from the cold and no medical assistance. There were many cases of bone and muscular tuberculosis.


Socialist solidarity was mobilized to help the children “who were hungry and had no means of satisfying this basic and simple need.”


The peace mission was led by Longhena in the spirit of international human solidarity driven by the desire to initiate new relationships between men after the destructive consequences of war.


The railways provided a long special train with first- and second-class carriages, luggage racks, a comfortable kitchen, and warehouses full of gifts for the children: clothes, shoes, marmalades, “which should have flattered their accustomed palates,” warm blankets and white pillows paid for by the Railway Bank.


Children from Vienna in Bologna - Il Comune di Bologna magazine, April 1920, picture by F. De FranceschiThe train staff consists of municipal employees with experience in the areas of care, school facilities and “having previously worked in municipal colonies.” A total of 52 predominantly female personnel were joined by a small garrison of six soldiers guarding the kitchen. A similar mission from the socialist municipality of Reggio Emilia, consisting of ten people, also travelled on the same train.


The train departed on the morning of December 23rd from Bologna, arriving at the southern station in Vienna at 9:30 a.m. on December 27, 1919, where it joined a similar expedition from Milan led by Mayor Emilio Caldara.


The Italian delegation is met by Health Minister Tandler and Vienna’s Burgomaster Reumann, who expressed their “profound gratitude,” while Caldara ensured “a healthy stay in Italy for the Austrian children, who would be lovingly cared for and treated with fatherly care.”


The train resumed its homeward journey to Bologna on December 29th, arriving at the station with 640 children, who were immediately assisted and taken to freshen up in the Porta Galliera baths and the schools in Via Zamboni. At noon they were fed with a warm meal after which almost three hundred of them were transferred to the Casaglia colony where they were housed for about four months.


Other children were accommodated in the municipalities of Reggio Emilia and Ravenna and by trade union organizations; others were hosted by families, workers’ societies in Imola and other organizations.


As councillor Longhena stated, “Children do not have a homeland, they belong to everyone; to those who love them, to those who devote themselves to caring for them: they are the women and men of the future which we want to be better and gentler than today’s society.”


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